[L]ast Friday the judge handling the tax-evasion case against Mr. Snipes denied a motion to dismiss the case, based, in part, on the argument that it was impermissibly brought on the basis of race. The judge ruled that the government is prosecuting Mr. Snipes not because of his race, but his fame. And that, he wrote, is all right. "From a prosecutor's point of view, especially in tax cases, the primary objective in deciding whom to prosecute is to achieve general deterrence," wrote Terrell Hodges, a federal judge in Ocala, Fla. "Here, Defendant Snipes is admittedly a well known movie star, and a person of apparent wealth, whose prosecution has already attracted considerable publicity." Added Judge Hodges: "Since the government lacks the means to investigate and prosecute every suspected violation of the tax laws, it makes good sense to prosecute those who will receive, or are likely to receive, the attention of the media."
Some readers of this blog were surprised by the judge's remarks. "Because of his celebrity?" asked one reader. "Isn't that a form of reverse discrimination?" Actually, it isn't, experts say.
"It's entirely reasonable for the government to prosecute someone based on the deterrent effect that bringing a high-profile case will have," said Paul Caron, a tax-law professor at the University of Cincinnati. This is particularly true in the area of tax prosecutions, notes Peter Henning, a criminal-law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. "Tax is different; it's a voluntary system, and you have to spread the message that you could get caught if you fail to pay your taxes."